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66 “Back in St. Olaf . . .” Regional Variation in The Golden Girls Jean Ann The Golden Girls can be succinctly summarized as a situation comedy about a group of elderly women living out their retirement years together as housemates in Miami, Florida. Each half-hour episode concerns their everyday activities and the ways in which they support each other and keep active in their community through good times and bad. The four female leads include Blanche Devereaux, played by Rue McClanahan: a sexually adventuresome widow from Atlanta, Georgia; Dorothy Zbornak, played by Bea Arthur: a practical, sensible divorcée who works as a substitute teacher and cares for her mother; Estelle Getty’s Sophia Petrillo: a Sicilian immigrant who doesn’t suffer fools gladly—both Dorothy and her mother, Sophia, come from New York City; and finally Rose Nylund, played by Betty White: a tender-hearted and naïve widow from a rural Minnesota community called St. Olaf. The Golden Girls ran from 1985 to 1992. The series enjoyed immediate popularity,wasquicktogarnercriticalacclaim,andremainsabelovedtelevision series over three decades since its premier.1 It consistently received nominations and awards for areas such as writing, directing, and editing, Thanks to John Lalande, Curt Rice, Espen Rice, Susan B. Brown, Chris Walsh, Bobbi Schnorr, Sharon Kane, Barb Beyerbach, Mary Harrell, Bonita Hampton, and Tania Ramalho for discussing the contents of this chapter with me. Thanks also to Kristy Beers Fägersten for a good deal of additional data. 1. See, for example, Farr (2015) and Yuko (2015).   “Back in St. Olaf . . .” | 67 as well as for individual performances and for the series itself. Weekly audiences looked forward to the show’s treatment of lighter-hearted topics such as Blanche’s experiences with her numerous sexual partners; the dating experiences of Dorothy, Rose, and Sophia; and attempts of all of the aging women to be present in and make sense of a changing world, while trying new experiences such as going back to school, getting parttime jobs, and doing stand-up comedy. But the show also took on racism, illness, death, homophobia, looks-ism, able-ism, ageism, and jealousy in ways that spoke deeply to American society. Among the many aspects of The Golden Girls that make it appealing to television viewers is the very fact that the dialogue includes language use that is familiar to the viewer, but that illustrates particular linguistic phenomena that may be unfamiliar. This chapter aims to identify and explain these linguistic phenomena, and in so doing to raise the viewer’s linguistic awareness. Most interesting to the linguist is how The Golden Girls relates to sociolinguistics , that is to say the branch of linguistics that investigates the relation between language and society, as explored in part in chapter 2. Sociolinguistics, at its heart, is about variation, arising from the deceptively simple idea that all speakers of a given language do not speak with each other in the same way all the time. This means that language varies between individual speakers, and among groups of speakers of a given language, in this case, English. The conditions under which language varies are what sociolinguists study; in this chapter, we explore geographical conditions. Regional Variation As illustrated in chapter 2, social variation can manifest itself in accents and dialects, but these linguistic phenomena are perhaps more readily recognized as indicators of regional variation, or differences in language use as a function of geographical influences. The distinction between accents and dialects bears repeating now, before we consider their relationship to regional variation. While accents refer only to variations in pronunciation, dialects refer to language varieties that can be identified by distinguishing features of pronunciation and vocabulary and grammar. In this chapter, 68 | Jean Ann we want to make a further distinction: one between dialect and language. Let’s consider the adage “A language is a dialect with an army and a navy.”2 This statement is a way of expressing that there may be no obviously linguistic aspects differentiating the two concepts of ‘language’ and ‘dialect’. In fact, sociolinguistic research posits that there are only extra-linguistic differences between a language and a dialect, such as geographical, political , and perhaps religious or social considerations. For example, Swedish and Norwegian are considered two different languages, given that they each belong to a different country. And yet native speakers of Swedish and Norwegian can understand and communicate with each other reasonably well. At the same time, it is also true that the Chinese language has many...


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